Sky Westerlund of the Kansas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers recently criticized the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ position that Kansas needs to bring its child welfare worker qualifications in line with the rest of the nation (“Problem isn’t social worker qualifications,” May 4 Opinion).
I provided testimony to the Legislature in April, sharing with the Legislative Post Audit Committee the challenges Kansas faces when it comes to the recruitment and retention of these child welfare workers. It’s not a problem unique to our state, but a struggle social service agencies across the country are facing.
DCF has employed many strategies to attract the best and brightest – including a recent raise for social workers. We are also equipping child welfare workers with technology to keep them safe and allow them to work efficiently and effectively in the field.
But this is not enough. We must open the field to additional qualified staff, so we can continue to meet the safety needs of our state’s most vulnerable residents. I, as a licensed social worker, would never support a reduction in the training and expertise needed to do this important work. But I do believe there are other professionals who, with DCF training, are qualified to serve this role.
In November 2015, we opened up employment opportunities in this field to other licensed staff, such as those with a master’s degrees in psychology, master’s-level professional counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists. This, unfortunately, has only minimally addressed the problem.
DCF audit staff canvassed all states to determine minimum education requirements for child welfare workers. Kansas is one of only four states that requires its social workers to hold a bachelor’s degree in social work and be licensed at the time of hire or within one year.
We will continue to explore innovative solutions to recruit and retain wonderful social workers who play a vital role in the well-being of vulnerable Kansans. Expanding our options is a great place to start and can be addressed through Legislative action.
We are happy to work collaboratively with the NASW to protect the integrity of social work while also meeting the increasing demand for child welfare professionals.
Phyllis Gilmore is secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.